Court blocks the use of Nationwide Permit 12 for pipeline water crossings

Great Falls, MT — A federal judge today largely upheld an April 15 ruling vacating Nationwide Permit 12, a key water crossing permit used by TC Energy’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and many other pipelines nationwide. The April ruling held that the Corps violated the Endangered Species Act in issuing Nationwide Permit 12 and prohibited the Corps from using this fast-tracked approval process for any projects, effectively blocking construction through hundreds of water crossings along the Keystone XL pipeline route. 

Today, in response to requests from the parties to narrow the ruling, the court allowed some minor projects to proceed under Nationwide Permit 12, but reaffirmed that the Army Corps cannot use the permit to approve the construction of Keystone XL or other oil and gas pipelines until it conducts a new analysis of the permit that complies with the Endangered Species Act.

“The Trump administration has repeatedly violated the law in their relentless pursuit of seeing Keystone XL and other dirty fossil fuel infrastructure built, and we’re glad to see the court refuse to bend to pressure from the administration not to hold them accountable,” siad Sierra Club Senior Attorney Doug Hayes. “Keystone XL would devastate communities, wildlife, and clean drinking water. Today’s ruling is yet another victory in the fight to ensure that it is never built.” 

“The Court has affirmed that the Trump administration can’t continue to ignore the catastrophic impacts of fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis, Senior Attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Constructing pipelines through rivers, streams and wetlands without analyzing the impacts on imperiled species is unconscionable, and we will continue to fight to protect vulnerable species, our waters and the climate from such reckless development.”

"Federal courts have again prevented a Trump administration attempt to ignore our laws and rubber-stamp permits for pipelines to poison our waterways, and threaten endangered species like the whooping crane in Nebraska," said Bold Alliance president Jane Kleeb. "After today's ruling that confirms the broad existing ban on projects like Keystone XL construction across waterways, TC Energy should immediately halt all activity on this tarsands pipeline that makes zero sense financially, and unnecessarily puts rural and Tribal communities at further risk during the coronavirus pandemic."

“Bedrock laws that protect our water and the livelihoods of farmers, ranchers, tribal members, and rural communities cannot simply be ignored as the court recognized again today,” said Dena Hoff, a Northern Plains member and Montana farmer. “This Canadian-owned, tar-sands project is a danger to our water and climate. Our children and grandchildren deserve clean air, water, and land for generations to come."

“Our courts have shown time and time again that the law matters,” said Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attorney Cecilia Segal. “Today’s ruling makes clear that climate-busting pipelines like Keystone XL cannot be built until the federal government does its job and properly analyzes these projects’ devastating effects on their surrounding communities and wildlife. If that analysis is based on science and facts, pipelines like Keystone XL will never see the light of day because they remain, and always will be, a dire threat to our water, wildlife and climate.”

“We thank the court for protecting people, the environment and vulnerable species,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “We will continue to fight to protect wildlife, communities and waterways from this administration and the devastating Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.”

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​